Anatomy of an artist statement

Lately I had the supreme good luck to have a poem accepted in the brand-new publication Atmospheric River. It’ll be published with my real name, Skye Alexander (Skye Allen is my fiction pen name). The editors needed an artist statement. I’d never written one of those before.

I found this handy post, “The Artist Statement and Why They Mostly Suck,” at the Bmore Art blog. These instructions were vastly helpful:

“The essentials of the artist statement are as following:

1. An explanation of the materials and media – What tools do you use? Be as specific as you can.
2. An explanation of the subject matter and concepts explored – What are you communicating? Again, be specific – What sets your work apart from other work?
3. How these two aspects reinforce or contradict one another – What does your work DO?

Additional, optional aspects:
4. A short and specific personal narrative – no longer than 2 sentences
5. Historical context – explaining one or two influences on the work and placing it into an art historical continuum
6. NOTHING ELSE – save your feelings for your diary

Other suggestions:
1. Do a studio visit with a colleague, artist, or critic and have them answer questions 1-5 for you and take notes. Let someone more objective than you put your visual work into words.
2. Read artist statements by artists who do work similar to yours. If they did a good job, write something similar.”

The poem that will be in Atmospheric River is a sonnet, strict syllable and line count and everything, and it’s about taking voice lessons with Laurie Lewis at the Freight and Salvage. Here’s the artist statement I eventually came up with:

“This is one of a group of sonnets I wrote on slow days at a past job, all centered on the theme of limitation. I was taking singing lessons from a well-known bluegrass musician at the time — the singer in the poem — and exploring a classical poetry form helped me reconcile the need to sing with the strict traditions of an unfamiliar genre and with that day-job despair so many artists have in common.”


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